Increasing food prices have affected children of school-going age the most, said Hacer Foggo, founder of the Istanbul-based Deep Poverty Network, in an interview with BBC Turkish service.
According to Foggo families are unable to provide their children with lunch for school, and the situation is getting worse with every passing day. “In smaller cities where there are stronger neighborhood ties, families are able to buy school snacks and food items by putting them on an account with their local grocery store; however, not all families have this opportunity,” she said.
A mother of four who wanted to remain anonymous said her children could not go to school last year because she did not have the financial means to provide them with lunch and other necessities.
A teacher working in a private school said the cost of lunch had increased drastically, and while some families were able to afford it most could no longer pay for their children to eat at school. “Last year families paid six thousand lira [$323] for school lunch, but this year the price has increased to 18,000 lira [$970]. The divide between students who can buy school lunch and those who can’t has deepened exponentially,” the teacher said.
Union leaders said some factory workers saved food items such as yogurt and fruit to take them home to their children.
“The Ministry of Education has to develop better policies to combat malnutrition among schoolchildren,” said academic Bülent Şık. “School cafeterias are far too expensive, and the food they serve is loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats. Cafeteria food has to be closely supervised by the ministry to ensure they serve healthy snacks at a reasonable price.”
However, experts agree that the government has a lot to do to ensure that students are not affected by the deteriorating economy and skyrocketing prices.
Seyfettin Gürsel, from the Bahçeşehir University Center for Economic and Social Research, said Turkey was one of the worst countries when it came to channeling state funds to schools.
“The government needs to rethink how public funds are allocated,” he said. “At the moment only 4 percent of funds are used for social assistance. This means that very little of this is used for education. If the government doesn’t tackle this problem soon, we will see the long-term health effects of malnutrition and hunger.”
The rising prices have not only affected food but also access to safe drinking water. The Istanbul-based Student-Parent Association (Veli-Der), which advocates for equality in education, said bottled water prices had increased by 200 percent. Students who did not have the money to buy bottled water had no option but drink tap water, which is not suitable for consumption in Istanbul.
The association said schools needed to work with municipalities to install drinking fountains accessible to all students.
A recent report prepared by the Turkish General Practitioners Journal revealed that one in every four children was underweight. Moreover, anemia had become a serious problem affecting 85 percent of girls and 65 percent of boys.
Over the past several years Turkey has been suffering from a deteriorating economy, with high inflation and unemployment. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.
A staggeringly high cost of living has become the new normal in Turkey, where recent increases in food and utility prices are pushing up inflation, further crippling the purchasing power of citizens.
An increasing number of Turks have complained on social media about rising electricity bills and falling into debt. Many have said even basic foods such as vegetables have become a luxury as prices have risen by nearly 400 percent.